Gilda Griffiths was raised in the East End of London, where her family experienced the terrors of the Blitz in World War II and the upheaval of the slum clearances after the war. After leaving school at 15, she took a variety of office and bar jobs. In 1971, she married John O'Neill, who became an actuary in the City, and had a son and a daughter. After her children were born, Gilda O'Neill went back to finish her education and began writing. Her first book was the oral history Pull No More Bines – Hop Picking: Memories of a Vanished Way of Life (1990), based in part on her childhood. Her first novel was The Cockney Girl (1992). Over 20 years, she published 15 more novels and five social histories. Her obituary in The Guardian said: "Underneath that cockney persona, she figured out how to use story-telling, lived experience and memory to draw political parallels. . . Like Studs Terkel, she used real experiences to show, as in A Night Out With the Girls (1993), how history is made in the asides on phone-in shows, through the snatched dialogues and shared raucous laughter. She cherished the vernacular, while painstakingly checking historical fact."